I leaned forward with cupped hands, eager to catch the last drops of words squeezed from my father’s dying heart.
“You… have been chosen to lead our people into the Promised Land.” He gasped. My father is the firstborn of firstborns since our father Naphtali. As His firstborn, I was destined to be the next leader of our tribe.
“I can’t do this alone, Father!” The echoes of desperation must have been louder than the words I spoke, for my father leaned forward, grabbing my shoulder with a feeble hand.
“You have been chosen by God!” my father exclaimed, determination adding traces of vigor to his voice. “I have failed our people. I have been in the Promised Land myself, but I did not believe that God could bring us home. Do not repeat my example!”
“But Father – the river!” I protested.
I had seen the Jordan myself. Yesterday I went with a dozen young men to scout our way to the Promised Land, and we saw something we had never seen before – a giant, rolling mass of water. I had lived my whole life in the desert and had never seen a river before, and one glance terrified me. I watched white foam bite with fury at the rocks which stood their ground, and knew at once this force of water would not stop for the will of a man.
“My son, do not fear the river. God will make a way.”
“But I know nothing about water! Our people will drown!” I was desperate to convince my father to stay alive and lead our people. He was the one who had crossed the river before – he is the one who should lead us!
“It was because we forgot God’s faithfulness we remained in the desert for forty years. I have faced a sea far greater than the river we face today. I walked across the sea on dry land – the hand of God pushed aside the sea, giving us a path through the water. Tomorrow you will walk into the Promised Land. Not even your feet will get wet…
“When you cross the river, set up a monument on the other side, so that you will never forget what God has done,” my Father gasped, then fell back and breathed no more.
The next morning, I felt a violent clash of emotions battling in my heart. I was terrified at the thought of leading my tribe across the river, but at the same time felt a peace beneath the eddies of fear.
When I stepped outside of my tent I already saw my people busily working around me, rolling up tents, throwing sacks on the backs of mules, and handing out pieces of manna to hungry children. I mounted a large boulder next to my tent.
“People of Naphtali,” I shouted, “today we enter the Promised Land!”
A loud cheer was followed by a hurried rush to get moving towards the land of our dreams. I could see the eagerness in the eyes of the people of my tribe. “These are your people, God,” I whispered, and felt a confidence enter my soul which I had never felt before.
A loud trumpet blast interrupted my thoughts, and I saw Joshua, the leader of all twelve tribes, gesturing for us to move towards the river. I left my brother to direct our tribe and went to join Joshua. He had requested that one man from each tribe join him in crossing the river first, behind the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant.
We followed the priests into the river, terrified but calm, alarmed but confident. At the first step of faith into the raging river, we saw the river pushed back, as if an invisible dam went up before our eyes. I saw with my own eyes the water turn back on itself in anger, unable to break the barrier in its way.
I stepped where the river had been just seconds ago. In the middle of the riverbed I saw the faithfulness of God as I watched my tribe walk into the Promised Land on dry ground. Remembering my father’s last words, I grabbed a large stone from the middle of the river.
This stone, built into a memorial with eleven other stones, one for each tribe of Israel, will forever be a memorial to the people of Naphtali of the faithfulness of God, so that our memory will never fail us again.
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